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The "Hurdy-Gurdy"

The "Hurdy Gurdy" footbridge between Burton Latimer and Isham
The "Hurdy-Gurdy" footbridge, crossing the Midland main railway line

The traditional footpath between Burton Latimer and Isham has to cross two main obstacles: the River Ise and the railway line running between the Midlands and London. Until the railway arrived in the 1850s, the crossing over the Ise was a simple wooden footbridge. When the Midland Railway built the line between Kettering and Wellingborough, it naturally follwed the general line of the Ise. The line was a grand affair, with four tracks, so when the railway reached this point, a strong footbridge was needed to span the four tracks and ensure the safety of walkers.

Detail from the Enclosure Map of 1803
Detail from the Ordnance Survey map of 1902

As can be seen from the 1902 map above, on the Isham side of the river there was a corn mill, and though the footbridges could not possible take horse-drawn traffic, a determined strong man could carry a small sack of flour back to Burton via the bridges, if he so wished.

The photo of the bridge shows just what a strong structure it was, with two very substantial sets of stone steps enclosed by high brick walls forming the two sides, and a lattice girder walkway set between them. Nobody seems to know how and why the bridge acquired the nickname of the "Hurdy Gurdy" - which was usually the name given to barrel organs which provided street entertainment - but maybe part of the name had something to do with the girder construction.

By the 1950s and 60s, the old corn mill was long closed, and was an open ruin surrounded by trees and shrubs. That, plus the presence of water and a railway line nearby, made the Hurdy Gurdy a mecca for local children looking for somewhere exciting to play, not to mention the attraction of clear views in each direction for the trainspotters who gathered on the bridge to have a pretty clear and uninterrupted view of the steam trains which thundered by. It was quite an experience to stand on the bridge while a train passed beneath - the bridge shook slightly and the footbridge deck (and anyone standing on it) would be totally enclosed for a short while in a cloud of thick white smoke.

A modern generation of children has more sophisticated tastes, and probably wouldn't understand the simple pleasures enjoyed on this spot by so many of their predecessors over the last century, but an echo of those times can still be caught if one uses the bridge, The traditional path to it still comes from Isham and from Bridle Road in Burton, while there is a new access alongside the river via the Pocket Park.

The steam trains have gone now, and the old mill has virtually disappeared too. The footbridge over the river has been replaced by a more modern structure, but still gives access to the old Hurdy Gurdy which stands there almost unchanged in over 150 years - they don't make them like that anymore!

The former Isham Corn Mill The former Isham Corn Mill
The last remnants of Isham Mill - photo taken in 2009

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